James Kelly

James Kelly was born in Philadelphia in 1913 to a family of shoemakers. While working in the family business by day, Kelly studied industrial arts at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia. He later continued his studies in the arts at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art, the Barnes Foundation on scholarship, and later the California School of Fine Arts from 1951-1954.

Kelly’s enlistment in the Air Force during World War II granted him the GI Bill and a ticket to San Francisco. It was there that his lithographic pieces received much attention, including that of Charles Dean, whose extensive Abstract Expressionist collection was acquired by the Library of Congress.

Kelly married fellow artist Sonia Gechtoff and moved to a studio on Fillmore Street in San Francisco. Their next-door neighbors included renowned artists Jay DeFeo, Wally Hedrick, and Michael McClure. It was during this time that Kelly developed his gestural, swirling style of painting, characterized by a heavy impasto.

In 1958 Kelly and Gechtoff relocated to New York, where Kelly worked at Grove Press while also receiving numerous awards for his art. He was awarded a Ford Foundation Grant for his lithography, a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, and a Peter and Madeline Martin Foundation for the Creative Arts Grant. Later on, in 1995, he was elected into the National Academy of Design. Kelly passed in 2003, leaving behind a legacy of nearly seven decades of work.


Selected Solo Exhibitions

1951 The Place, San Francisco

1956 San Francisco Art Association Gallery

1963 Stryke Gallery

1965 East Hampton Gallery

1966 Albright College

1968 Long Island University, Brooklyn

1971 Westbeth Gallery

1990 Wiegand Gallery


Selected Group Exhibitions

1949 Contemporary Art Association

1951 Pyramid Club

1951 California School of Fine Arts

1954 King Ubu Gallery

1955 East and West Art Gallery

1956 The Oakland Museum of California

1956 San Francisco Museum of Art

1958 M.H. de Young Memorial Museum

1958 San Francisco Museum of Art

1959 Time Life Building

1962 The Riverside Museum

1965 San Francisco Museum of Art

1968 Los Angeles County Museum

1973 The Oakland Museum of California

1975 The Pheonix Art Museum

1976 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

1980 The Oakland Museum of California

1996 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art



Selected Collections

Museum of Modern Art, New York

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Naples Museum of Art

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

James Kelly, 1952, 23″ x 29″

James Kelly, 1952, 23″ x 29″